Convicts’ GCTA hangs

DOJ chief wants to suspend process pending rules review

The Department of Justice on Sunday said it will inform the Supreme Court that it will suspend the implementation of Republic Act No. 10592, which expanded the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) of convicted felons until the Bureau of Corrections has carefully reviewed and finalized its implementing rules and regulations.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Bucor would temporarily stop processing the GCTA of inmates to avoid confusion in the recomputation of their accumulated good conduct points.

“We will surely inform the Supreme Court about the need to temporarily suspend the processing of GCTAs until the Bucor guidelines have been carefully reviewed by a DOJ task force to be constituted for the purpose,” Guevarra said, in a statement.

The Bucor, which is under the administrative supervision of the DOJ, is mandated by law to assess and grant the GCTA of inmates or convicted criminals, in compliance with the directive of the Supreme Court to apply RA 10592 retroactively, meaning it will include inmates before the passage of the law in 2013.

Guevarra said the processing of the GCTA of inmates under RA 10592 will be expedited once the guidelines have been reviewed and finalized.

“We expect the processing to pick up greater speed once the guidelines have been reviewed and firmed up,” the DOJ chief said.

Although Guevarra initially announced that convicted murderer and rapist Antonio Sanchez might be released early along with 11,000 other inmates under the expanded GCTA, the Justice secretary later said the high-profile inmate was not entitled to early release under the law after all because he had been convicted of heinous crimes.

READ: Palace: Sanchez ‘not eligible’ for release, Duterte ‘furious’

Still, he said, some lawyers argued that all convicted prisoners regardless of the crimes they committed are qualified to receive the benefits of the expanded GCTA law—and said either Congress or the Supreme Court could settle the issue.

“The DOJ will be glad to have this issue resolved with clarity and finality either by a congressional amendment of its own act or by an interpretation rendered by the Supreme Court in a proper case brought before it,” Guevarra said.

READ: Palace bucks public outcry over Sanchez release plan

The BuCor is currently reviewing the GCTAs of some 11,000 inmates, including Sanchez, to find out who among them could be freed for good behavior.

Sanchez, who is now 73 years old, had been sentenced to seven reclusion perpetua (40 years in prison) terms in 1995 for the rape with homicide of University of the Philippines-Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta and the homicide of her friend Allan Gomez in year 1993.

While he was in prison, new charges were filed against Sanchez for possession of shabu and marijuana leaves in 2006. Four years later, he was reportedly caught with one kilogram of shabu hidden in a Virgin Mary statue; he allegedly sold the P1.5 million worth of illegal drugs to his fellow inmates. \

Talk of Sanchez’s possible early release drew a firestorm of criticism from several groups, including the families of Sarmenta and Gomez.

Senator Risa Hontiveros on described as “victory of a vigilant public” the reversal of Sanchez’s early release.

“In a time of flip flop politics, the people’s consistent vigilance and media’s strong sense of history has kept Sanchez, an unrepentant and habitual criminal, behind bars,” Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros said that the government must implement the law according to its true intent and thoroughly review all factors before applying clemency to sentences to avoid perverting the spirit of restorative justice.

“RA 10592 is a good law. It is consistent with the principles of restorative justice. Truly repentant and rehabilitated inmates should be given the chance to reintegrate into society. But only if their actions mirror positive behavioral change, accountability and genuine remorse,” she added.

Meanwhile, Senator Richard Gordon said prison records should be digitalized for prompt and accurate information.

“It is important that their time served and their good conduct time allowance are properly documented,” Gordon said in a mix of English and Filipino. “There shouldn’t be cases where you can go free because you’re well connected to the warden.”

“[The] computation must be transparent so that there will be no doubts that may affect the integrity of our penal system and [lead to a] loss of confidence in our court system,” he added. With Macon Ramos-Araneta

READ: 'Nightmares' over Sanchez

Topics: Department of Justice , Supreme Court , good conduct time allowance , Bureau of Corrections
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